A nearly four-decade career in commercial beekeeping led a Ferndale man and his wife to start a beeswax candle company in their retirement years.
Brian and Ann Barbata, owners of Golden Bee Candleworks, opened a store in the Victorian village in 2006 with Brian's brother, but closed it down in January because of all the time it took to make the candles and run the store. Now, the couple operates the business out of their home and sells their candles at arts and craft festivals, fairs and in a few stores.
"We do about 14 craft shows a year and we sell to four local shops: the Co-ops, Wildberries and Natural Foods," Brian Barbata said. "I'm also expanding back into the bee business, but not as big as I was before — I had 1,100 hives based out of here and I would take the bees up to Oregon and Nevada and then bring them back here."
Ann Barbata — a retired teacher who worked 25 years in the Scotia school district — said traveling got to be too much, on top of running the store. Brian Barbata added that the economy was slow and they were making enough at the festivals and fairs and selling in local stores.
"I always knew the business owners on Main Street seemed to be a happy group of people, and I thought that would give me something to do — it'll be interesting, it'll be fun and it'll just be good for both us to do something like that," Ann Barbata said. "That's another reason we decided to open the store on Main Street. But now I can spend my time here helping Brian set up candles."
Mara Segal, general merchandise buyer for North Coast Co-op, said the store has been receiving products from the couple for about the last 15 years.
"They bring us the candles and there are some very lovely figures of their own design," Segal said. "For the most part, we sell the pillars – which are just the traditional candles– but they also bring in seasonal candles like pine cones and trees for Christmas, hearts for Valentine's Day, bunnies and eggs for spring, and leaves and pears for fall. Customers love the candles and say they burn wonderfully."
Ann Barbata said beeswax candles burn differently than regular scented paraffin ones because they don't give off a smelly odor or leave an icky residue on the ceiling and walls.
"Beeswax, when it burns, not only cleans the air but burns brighter and longer, and the health benefits are incredible," she said. "I have a friend who can't burn candles because she was in a chemical spill a while back, but she said she can burn Golden Bee candles with no problems. The candles smell wonderful, and I remember one time an Italian lady came into the shop and said, 'It smells so good, like church,' and I just thought that was wonderful."
The Barbatas have their own apiary — nearly 60 hives with 8,000 to 10,000 bees in each — that produces the honey needed to get the beeswax they use to make not only the candles but soaps and sand castle sculptures. Brian said the sculptures have beeswax bases with sand around the edges and wood-carved additions — for example, the legs of a Dungeness crab he is currently working on.
"The apiary we have now is a nursery that I started with these packages that each had three pounds of an artificial swarm and a queen suspended in a little cage," Brian Barbata said. "The results are beautiful young hives and the colony morale is very high. But they don't get this way without being fed. You have to feed them, otherwise they'll starve."
Ann Barbata added that bees are like any other livestock, and people don't realize they have to be fed, medicated and the queen has to be removed when she gets old. Brian Barbata said most of his bees are Italian because they are good producers and lay prolifically early on in the season when they need to harvest the honey. He added that there are two ways to get the beeswax, either through extraction or rendering it by using equipment.
"I generally get quite a bit when I render out the honey and put in new frames," he said. "We use about 2,000 pounds of wax a year, and we're just a small niche business. Once the candles are ready, we take them to the festivals and fairs or the stores."
Segal said the candles are very high quality and up until the store closed, she would go to into the shop.
"I would look at the variety of candles and tell them what we might like to have in the store," Segal said.
Ann Barbata said for now they are a small family business and don't have plans to expand because they are just big enough to be successful.
"We're doing this in our retirement years and it's enough to give us a retirement income, but we don't want it to get big to the point where we have to go hire people, and we get a lot of local support," she said.
Contact Melissa Simon at 441-0508.